9 October 2017

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General, as you know, was in Antigua and Barbuda, and then in Dominica over the weekend, following the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

In Barbuda, whose entire population had to be evacuated to the island of Antigua, he said he witnessed a level of devastation that he had never seen before in his life.  In Dominica, he noted that the country had been decimated, its whole population impacted and its forest ravaged by the hurricane.  The Secretary-General reiterated that we have now hurricanes and storms with a much higher frequency and a much higher intensity, with a direct established link with climate change.

The Secretary-General called for an enhanced engagement of the international community against climate change and strongly appealed for international solidarity with Caribbean islands — through humanitarian aid but also through new mechanisms allowing for effective reconstruction to build up resilience.  Most of the countries impacted are middle-income countries.  Because of that, they are deprived of the form of assistance or concessional loans that low-income countries can have access to, he said. 

One of the ideas that the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has expressed is the possibility to transform the repayment of debt in investments made by the countries in resilience to storms.  The Secretary-General stressed that the World Bank will soon be organizing a donors’ conference: when Caribbean countries are facing external shocks of the magnitude that we are witnessing, it is absolutely crucial that they benefit from innovative forms of funding, and from assistance, concessional loans and new bonds, the Secretary-General said. 


Turning to Bangladesh, our humanitarian colleagues say that the number of Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar since late August has reached 519,000 people.  Aid workers continue to work with the Government to scale up their operations, and, as of 4 October, 515,000 people have been provided with food assistance.  The revised humanitarian appeal for $434 million, which seeks to help 1.2 million people, is currently 24 per cent funded. 

The UN migration agency, IOM, says that at least 13 Rohingya refugees — mostly children — drowned when a fishing boat carrying them to Bangladesh capsized in stormy weather.  There were approximately 60 refugees aboard the 20‑metre, wooden fishing vessel when it left Myanmar under cover of darkness, hoping to avoid patrols on both sides of the border, survivors told our colleagues. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners will roll out a vaccination campaign — the second largest of its kind ever — in Cox’s Bazar beginning tomorrow.  They aim to deliver cholera vaccinations to 650,000 people initially, followed by a second round to 250,000 children between the ages of one and five. 

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Our colleagues at the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) reports an attack against its base in Mamundioma in North Kivu this morning.  The attack was carried out by suspected Allied Democratic Forces.  Initial reports suggest two peacekeepers are dead and several more have been wounded.  The Mission deployed attack helicopters, as well as the Force Intervention Brigade, in support of operations and to reinforce its presence. 

The UN Mission’s forces are also deployed on the road between Kamango and Mbau to restore order and protect the populations of these towns.  The injured peacekeepers have been evacuated to Goma for medical assistance.  And we hope to update you throughout the day with more information

**Humanitarian Aid

The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, announced today that the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has now reached its 2017 funding target of $450 million, following an additional commitment of $6 million from Sweden.  He said that, given the many challenges we face today with 145 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, achieving the target set for 2017 provides a much-needed boost. 

But with the increase in needs brought on by ongoing conflict and natural disasters this year, the Emergency Relief Coordinator stressed that it is more and more important that donors enable CERF to reach its 2018 funding target — which is going to be $1 billion. 


From Iraq, although the fighting in and near Hawija in Iraq’s Kirkuk Governorate is ending, the UN and its aid partners are still deeply concerned about the safety of civilians in the area. 

The Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, said that more than 5.4 million civilians have been displaced in Iraq since 2014, stressing that nothing is more important than protecting civilians who have been impacted by the conflict.  She said that protection remains her over-riding concern, with aid workers being deeply worried about incidents of collective punishment, restrictions on free movement, evictions, forced returns and sexual exploitation and violence, including in emergency sites and camps. 


The Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, will begin a three‑day visit to Ukraine tomorrow.  She will meet with senior Government officials, members of the humanitarian and diplomatic communities, and families displaced by the conflict.  She is also expected to visit parts of eastern Ukraine to see first-hand the humanitarian situation of people in the areas affected by fighting, now in its fourth year. 


The World Food Programme (WFP) has joined forces with Kyrgyzstan to create an online platform that can forecast food security crises in the country.  The new system, developed with funding from Japan, creates many scenarios based on food price spikes caused by natural disasters, conflicts or socioeconomic crises.  More information with WFP. 


From Mali, our colleagues at UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) warned today that a nutrition crisis, exacerbated by continuing violence, instability and displacement, is threatening the lives and futures of thousands of children in the country.  More information online. 


I also want to flag the State of Food and Agriculture 2017 report published today by our colleagues at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  This report argues that millions of young people in developing countries who are poised to enter the labour force in the coming decades need not flee rural areas to escape poverty.

On the contrary, rural areas actually have vast potential for economic growth pegged to food production and related sectors.  And with the majority of the world's poor and hungry living in these areas, achieving the 2030 development goals will hinge on unlocking that oft‑neglected potential. 

**Food Security

And still on the subject of food security, in a video message to the Committee on World Food Security, gathered in Rome, the Secretary-General stressed that hunger is on the rise, with 815 million chronically undernourished people in the world today.  Investing in food security and rural development creates stronger and more resilient communities so that people can prosper and thrive without having to move on.

**Press Briefings

After we are done here, Brenden Varma will do his briefing on behalf of the President of the General Assembly.  And at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference here by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), who you know won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.  You will have seen that we have issued a statement on that, congratulating them late Friday afternoon.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  On these… on this attack in Congo, the story out of the region says that 12 people were injured.  You only said “a number”.  Is that figure of about a dozen still accurate? 

Spokesman:  My sense is… well, I'll… I don't want to talk about my sense.  We are still in the process of getting hard facts here, confirmable facts.  As soon as we have them, we'll share them with you.  Yep?

Question:  Sure.  Some other things.  I want to ask you about Cameroon.  Over the weekend, several churches in Buea and… and other places in the Anglophone areas were raided by the military.  And up to 200 people were arrested, and high bail is being charged to release them.  There's also now some footage of the Government firing from helicopters on unarmed civilians on the ground.  So I'm wondering, does the UN still stand behind this ten dead figure that was used by Prince Zeid last week? What… what's the status of Mr. [Francois Lounceny] Fall going? And… Okay.  Go ahead.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Mr. Fall and the Government are in discussion about when he can go.  There was a team that went last week at the working level from his office.  But we're still in discussions with the Government.  The Government has expressed its willingness to welcome him.  It's now a matter of finding the dates.  As for the number of casualties, I don't have any updated numbers beyond what our colleagues at the Human Rights Office were able to confirm.

Question:  And I wanted to ask you, you'd said last week in sort of… in… in… in… after the statement in back and forth that, of course, the Internet should be on and social net… social networks.  So I wanted to ask you, there's a French firm, Orange, which is, I believe, a Government telecom company, that has a Cameroonian subsidiary.  And they've said publicly that, when the Government tells them to turn stuff off, they just turn it off.  They're a member of the Global Compact.  And what I'm wondering is, does the UN believe that private telecom companies that a… ascribe to these human rights views as put forth in the Global Compact should, without notice to people and in a sort of a devious way where they say, sorry for the interruption; we're working to get it back on, obey the Government and turn the Internet off on people?

Spokesman:  Look, the Global Compact has processes to which to review whether or not companies should remain members of the Global Compact.  That's existing.  That's up to them to comment on.  Our principled line continues to be that people should have access to the Internet, that the Internet is a critical tool for which people now every… in everyday lives to conduct their lives, not only to have access to information.  As to the regulatory framework in each country and who's responsible for what, I can't comment on, but on a… because I don't know about it, because, obviously, as a matter of principle, we feel people should have access to the Internet.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I want to ask about Sudan.  Recently, the Sudanese Government has been cooperating with the UN, and the situation in Darfur somehow is better.  Cooperation between Sudan and the international community is getting much better.  I mean, the US crossed Sudan from the list of those countries prevented from entering the US, and soon they will announce the lifting of the sanctions.  If these steps continue to follow, how… would the UN reassess its evaluation, its relations with the Bashir Government, especially in light of this resolution of ICC (International Criminal Court) to indict [Omar Hassan al] Bashir as a war criminal?

Spokesman:  You know, I think you're asking a question best left to analysts.  Obviously, the issue of the ICC is not one in which the Secretary‑General is implicated.  That decision was taken by the International Criminal Court.  The UN… the Secretariat has a working relationship with the Government of Sudan, both because of the presence of the joint AU‑UN mission (UNAMID) and, obviously, we have a country programme and a country team in Khartoum.  There are different parts of the UN that have different types of relationships, and it will be up to everybody to figure out what the best way forward is.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Your microphone… yeah, there we go.  You're good.  You're good.

Question:  A Swiss aid worker was kidnapped on Saturday night.  Do you know anything? Do you have…

Spokesman:  In Sudan?

Question:  In Sudan, yeah, in Darfur.

Spokesman:  No, I will check.  Yep?

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  On the ICC… I actually wanted to ask you something on… on the ICC in a… in a… what seems to be a connection to the UN Secretariat or at least it's… OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services).  You may have seen these leaked documents being analysed concerning former prosecutor Moreno… Luis Moreno Ocampo.  And the reason I want to ask you is they touch on Kenya and the decision to try to have… give Mr. [Uhuru] Kenyatta a way out, but Fatou Bensouda has said it's being investigated by something called the IOM, not the other IOM but the Internal Oversight Mechanism, which, in its bylaws, is… is… is… cooperates in some way with OIOS.  So, I wanted to know, is there any… it's always been said from here that there's no connection between the ICC and the UN Secretariat, that that's… is it… can you… I'm asking as a… Do they work with IOM?

Spokesman:  No, there is… listen…  You have read those bylaws.  I have not.  There is no operational link between the UN and the ICC.  Whether or not it… often the case that various internal oversight bodies have different parts of the system writ very large cooperate with each other, but OIOS does not have any jurisdictional oversight over the ICC.

Question:  Is it… I mean, I guess I'm just wondering, I don't know if they'll answer if I ask them, so could you ask them whether OIOS is playing any role in the… in the… they've des… what's described as an investigation of these Moreno Ocampo…

Spokesman:  What I'm telling you is OIOS does not have any jurisdiction over the International Criminal Court.

Question:  Then why are they… okay.

Spokesman:  Okay?

Question:  All right.  And can I ask you one… I'd asked you in writing, but I want to ask you now, just try again one last time.  The meeting between the Secretary‑General and the Philippines' Foreign Minister, it was now ten days ago, but there've been increasing readouts from it, including totally contradictory ones.  One side says that it was… he criticised Agnès Callamard in the meeting, and another… Human Rights Watch claims that Mr. [Alan Peter] Cayetano offered for some kind of inter… some international oversight of the… on this issue of… of extrajudicial killings.  So, why wasn't a readout put out? And could you provide, at least on those two issues… which was it? Was it… or was it both? Why…

Spokesman:  I'll see if I can get anything.  I don't have anything with me.  Thank you.  And Brenden will now speak.

For information media. Not an official record.